Friday, December 28, 2007


Let’s ring in the New Year with some chocolate!

Bouchon is the French term for a type of restaurant found in the region of Lyon. These places are known for wonderfully rustic, robust, lusty meals prepared and presented in a simple and warm atmosphere. They are places where local wares and ingredients are shared at an open table in the best of the communal spirit. Bouchon is also the French word for “cork” and is perfectly applied to the little French chocolate cakes that are baked to resemble the shape of a cork. So it is fitting to celebrate New Year’s Eve by sharing a bouchon with those you love. Or those you want to love.

These cakes take just a few moments to mix and another few minutes to bake. They are cakey but also a bit fudgy, with a crunchy-chewy exterior – a sort of Frenchy brownie but not as rich or cloying. My recipe is decidedly not overly sweet in an effort to emphasize the glories of the main ingredient. If you love chocolate, this is your roadmap to a quick fix. Voila.

Bench notes:

- While I usually favor Dutched cocoa by Valrhona, I’ve made this recipe with both Dutched and unDutched cocoa and both are great.
- I baked these bouchon in 2” cylindrical timbales, each holding about 1/3 C batter (or roughly 1 1/2 oz). They took about 24 minutes to bake. Adjust your baking time depending on your baking tins and the vagaries of your oven. You can use a mini-muffin tin if you have one of those. I’ve also seen mini-popover pans used and they make gorgeous bouchon. In any case, start checking your bouchon around the 15 minute-mark. An inserted toothpick should come out with a moist crumb. Nothing worse than dry cake and the difference between perfect cake and dry cake is less than 2 minutes. Keep checking every couple of minutes once you get to the 15-minute mark!
- These are best eaten the same day but can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Makes 10 using 2" timbale molds

4 oz (1 stick) butter
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 eggs @ room temperature
3/4 C + 2 T sugar
heaping 1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t vanilla
1/4 C cocoa powder
3/4 C flour
2/3 C chopped bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2” timbale molds and place on a sheet pan.

Melt chocolate and butter over a water bath or bain marie and stir to blend.
Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together and add vanilla. Add chocolate to egg mixture and stir until smooth.
Whisk together the flour and the cocoa and add to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until it is nearly blended. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until blended. Spoon batter into molds, filling them to the top.

Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, but start checking around the 15-minute mark, depending on the size of your baking tins. A toothpick inserted into the bouchon should come out with some moist crumbs. Cool briefly and remove from molds. And with that…..

Happy New Year!

2007 has been an incredible year for me. I’ve worked with people who inspire me in countless ways. I’ve enjoyed great humor, wisdom and lots of new ideas. I’ve joined causes that have lifted me up and introduced me to a whole new world that reinforces the strength and generosity of the human spirit. I have learned so much from every endeavor and encounter. I hope you also savor some great memories from the year’s many activities and moments of quiet pleasure. Let's now turn to a new year filled with a fresh excitement for everything life has to offer.

This blog is one way I share my passion and curiosity for the beauty of the culinary world. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. Special thanks to everyone who taste-tested countless bites and proved once again that good food is the universal language of the gods. And a very special note of appreciation to all who supported pastrystudio from its very inception. My deepest gratitude for your love, advice and encouragement.

Be it resolved to have only the most delicious morsels in your life!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Panforte Siena

Panforte is a dense chewy confection made with honey, nuts, spice and candied citrus with origins dating back to the Middle Ages in Siena, Italy. It was once used as a tithe to the monasteries at the beginning of each new year, so you will often find it in abundance throughout Italy at this time of year. Each regional shop carries its own distinctive brand. Some say a proper panforte should have 17 ingredients to reflect the 17 different contrade, or city subdivisions, within the city walls. The most famous contrade are the 17 Contrade de Siena that form the teams of the Palio di Siena.

As new ingredients were discovered over the centuries, many different recipes for panforte evolved throughout the regions. The Parenti bakery developed a chocolate one in the 1820’s. There are now three principal varieties, Panforte Margherita, a lighter and sweeter version named after Queen Margherita; Panforte Nero, made with an emphasis on bitter almonds; and my favorite, Panforte Panpepato, typically the highly spiced version that comes from 13th century Siena.

The best recipe I’ve found so far has hazelnuts, almonds, candied citron (or Buddha’s Hand), cocoa and an intriguing combination of spice. It comes from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz. A warm and personal cookbook, every recipe is timeless, well tested and easily employed. I used to work with one of the recipe testers for the book, so I jumped right in when it was first published in 1999. Over the years, I think I’ve prepared nearly every recipe. David lives in Paris these days and has since published more cookbooks. You can follow his adventures at

Bench notes:
- You will need a candy thermometer or be able to test for the softball stage (240 degrees).
- I candy Buddha’s Hand each year for panforte. It is an essential ingredient! The unique aroma and flavor will knock you out. And, no! It bears no resemblance to those icky fruits you see in plastic containers! Buddha’s Hand or citron can sometimes be found at farmer’s markets or specialty markets. In an absolute pinch, you can use candied lemon peel.
- I added a pinch of cardamom to the recipe because I just had to.
- You can also bake in eight 3 1/2” tartlet pans for individual gifts.
- Traditionally, panforte is baked on a piece of edible wafer paper to make removal from the pan a bit easier. I use butter and cocoa as stated in the recipe. The trick is to remove from the pan while it is still warm. But if you wish to remain true to tradition, you can order wafer paper online.
- Enjoy with a good cup of coffee or a little glass of vin santo.

adapted from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz
Makes 1 9 1/2” disc, 16 to 20 servings

5 T unsweetened cocoa, plus 2 teaspoons more for dusting pan
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 C hazelnuts, toasted and loose skins removed
1 1/2 C almonds, toasted
3/4 C flour
3/4 C chopped candied citrus peel (preferably candied citron)
1 T ground cinnamon
2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
Pinch grated nutmeg
Pinch chili pepper
Pinch of cardamom (optional)
1 C granulated sugar
3/4 C honey

Powdered sugar for dusting

Prepare a 9 1/2" springform pan with butter. Dust with 2 teaspoons of cocoa, tapping out the excess. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Chop chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl set over simmering water. Be sure the bowl is not touching the water.
Chop the nuts coarsely but leave a few whole.
Stir together nuts, flour, 5 tablespoons cocoa, candied citrus and spices in a large mixing bowl.

Attach a candy thermometer to a small heavy saucepan. Place granulated sugar and honey in the pan and heat to 240 degrees F.

Mix melted chocolate into nut, fruit and spice mixture. Stir in honey syrup. Work very quickly because the batter will begin to stiffen very rapidly. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Dampen your fingers or the back of a spoon with a bit of water and spread batter evenly, smoothing the surface.

Bake for 50 minutes and cool for about 30 minutes. While still warm, loosen the edges from the pan with a thin knife. Remove from pan with the help of a metal pastry spatula, if necessary. When cooled completely, rub powdered sugar into the top and sides of the panforte with your hands.

Panforte improves with age and will keep up to one year wrapped and packed away in a cool dry place for your journey to the New World. When you open the container, you will be completely blown away by the absolutely other-worldly fragrance of panforte. Buen appetito!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Linzer Love

In an appreciative bow to tradition, what would the season be without Linzer Cookies? These crisp spicy cookies filled with jam are a mini permutation of the Linzertorte, the oldest known torte that originates from the city of Linz in Austria. The first recorded recipe for the Linzertorte dates back to 1653 and comes from the archive of the Benedictine monastery Admont Abbey, renowned for its Baroque architecture and its vast library and art collection.

The basics of the Linzertorte are very simple: a thin layer of nut pastry filled with jam and then topped with a criss-cross lattice of nut pastry. The torte is most often filled with raspberry or red currant jam, but apricot is another favorite. The modern version is a sandwich cookie with the same elements.

This cookie is an easy mix that combines the earthy crunch of hazelnuts, the warmth of aromatic spice and the lusciousness of fruit all in one bite. Once you begin the baking process, the smell of roasting nuts and spices emanating from your oven will surely send you into a state of delight powerful enough to soothe any holiday angst. A light dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top reminds us of the snow-filled fairy tales that include our favorite fantasies. Take it to the next level by dipping a portion of each cookie in melted bittersweet chocolate and you have the dreamiest cookie in your midst. Resistance is futile!

Linzer Cookies showcase the best pastry traditions of Austria and will remind you just how easy it is to join in this season of giving. Share these delicious old fashioned cookies with your guests as they gather to celebrate the warmth of your table.

Bench notes:
- The secret to well shaped crisp cookies is chilling. Lots of chilling! Once the dough is mixed, roll it out to 1/8” and chill it so that it’s firm enough to make the job of using a cookie cutter a snap and so your cut cookies maintain their shape. Once cut, chill them again to be sure they hold their shape during baking.
- I added an egg yolk to the original recipe for added richness and tenderness. I also left out the almond extract and added a teaspoon of rum for a bit of holiday cheer as well as a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
- Unfilled, these cookies will store a couple of weeks in an airtight container. As with all pastries that contain a good measure of spice, they taste best the next day when all that goodness has a chance to co-mingle and become an even greater temptation.
- When cutting out cookies, handle the scraps gently and reroll.
- My cookies took about 17 minutes to bake. The test for doneness for most cookies is if they move easily when gently nudged. If they show any resistance, bake another minute.

Linzer Cookies
adapted from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies
Makes about 20 3 1/2” cookies

2 C flour
1 C hazelnuts and/or almonds
1/2 C sugar
1/4 t salt
2 1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t cloves
8 oz (2 sticks) butter cut into small pieces
1/4 t almond extract
1 t lemon zest
1 t orange zest
1 t rum (optional)
1 egg yolk (optional)
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Good quality fruit preserves
Powdered sugar for dusting

Place the flour, nuts, sugar, salt, spices and zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is finely ground. Add the pieces of butter, extract and/or rum and egg yolk if using and pulse until the mixture has a damp appearance and starts to clump around the center of the bowl. Remove the mixture and gather into a ball, gently kneading a bit if necessary to bring the dough together. Divide into two packets and using two pieces of plastic wrap for each packet, roll out to 1/8” thickness. Place on a sheet pan or flat surface and chill until firm, preferably overnight.

Using your favorite cookie cutter or a thin sharp knife for simple geometric shapes, cut out the cookies and place on a parchment lined pan. If you have a smaller version of your cookie cutter, cut out a center on half the cookies so the color of the jam can shine through. If the dough has softened at all, refrigerate again until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower third of the oven for about 13 – 15 minutes, rotating front to back and top to bottom half-way through the baking. The cookies should just start to take on a little color around the edges. The smaller cutout centers will only take 8 – 10 minutes.

Cool cookies completely before filling or storing. Dust the cookie tops with confectioner’s sugar, put a thin layer of preserves on the bottoms and sandwich together. If desired, skip the dusting of sugar, melt a bit of bittersweet chocolate and decorate as you wish. If you have not cut out a window, you can dip a portion of the cookie into the chocolate, scraping off the excess from the bottom and placing on a cooling rack or piece of parchment to dry. If you have a cut out on the cookie top, you can simply drizzle some chocolate across the surface.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Curious Case of Quince

If you’ve never had a bowl of fresh quince in your kitchen, you probably haven’t experienced the most floral winter fruit fragrance imaginable. As they continue to ripen, they fill the room with an almost tropical aroma.

With their lumpy exterior and gnarled shape, quince are often thought of as apple’s ugly cousin. They have a form similar to an apple and the texture of a hard pear, but caution! They are not to be eaten raw. They are very hard, bitter and astringent and that is definitely not the way to be introduced to these gems. However, once they’ve been cooked in a nice poaching liquid they truly are a lovely and unusual treat.

Although quince have a yellowish green surface with an ivory interior, the poaching process transforms them into a deep rosy orange, which may account for some of their mystery. They do take some work before you can coax them into a palatable pleasure, but it is worth every minute to get there. Brimming with natural pectin, quinces are perfect for making jams, jellies and membrillo, the Spanish fruit paste often served with Manchego cheese. Quinces are also a staple in savory Moroccan tagines, North African and Middle Eastern stews, Chinese teas and Hindu chutneys.

The cultivation of quince likely originated in Mesopotamia, somewhere between the Caspian and the Black Seas. They also appear in ancient Greek writings and were thought to be the favorite of Aphrodite, which made them a ritual offering in wedding ceremonies. Charlemagne also introduced the fruit to France and they are mentioned for the first time in the English language in the later part of the 13th Century. By the early 18th Century, quinces had found their way through the Massachusetts Bay and on to Virginia.

Knowing my love of quince, a friend recently sent me a recipe for Quince Pound Cake from Epicurious. Since I'm definitely intrigued by anything having to do with fresh fruit, I was game to try it and I'm glad I did. The combination of the cake, with its almost imperceptible yet fabulous hint of spice, and the mildly sweet flavor of the fruit make this a great way to enjoy the brief quince season.

Bench notes:
- I’ve substituted Cindy Mushet’s recipe for poaching quince from Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style. However, you may prefer to try the original recipe. I also made additional quince because I wanted a higher fruit to cake ratio.
- Although the process may seem a bit daunting, once you have the quinces poached you only need to complete a simple mix for a pound cake. The best way to do this recipe is to poach the quinces on one day and make the cake the next.
- This cake is very dense and it took a freaky 1 hour and 13 minutes to bake. If I were to do this again, I’d probably make a couple loaves for smaller portioning and shorten the baking time accordingly.
- Be careful when peeling and cutting into quince. They are very hard and will take steady but careful force.
- Due to the high ratio of butter, it will take about 3 to 5 minutes before the butter and sugar are properly creamed. It won’t look right for the first couple of minutes but it will come together.
- You can reduce the poaching liquid and serve over ice cream or mix into sparkling water or your favorite drink.

Poached Quince
adapted from Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style by Cindy Mushet
3 - 4 quinces
4 C water
3/4 C sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
Orange peel strips from 1/2 orange
Lemon peel strips from 1/2 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
3 slices fresh ginger
2 T lemon juice

Peel, quarter, and core fruit. Cut into 1/2” slices. Place the peel and the cores in a saucepan with the water, sugar, and flavorings. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain and return the liquid, vanilla bean, and cinnamon to the pan. Add fruit and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the fruit is a deep rose color. Cool completely. Refrigerate in an airtight container.

Quince Pound Cake
Gourmet | January 1998
Serves 10 to 12.

1 3/4 C cake flour
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C sugar
1 large egg yolk
3 whole large eggs
1/2 C heavy cream
1 t vanilla
Poached quince

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan with butter and flour and a parchment round.

Place quince slices on a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Cut into 1/4” slices or into smaller chunks if you prefer. Reserve poaching liquid for another use.
Sift together flour, cinnamon, and salt twice.
Beat butter and sugar until light and fully combined, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl to be sure the entire mixture is creamed.
Beat in half of flour mixture and then add all of cream until just combined.
Add remaining flour mixture and vanilla, mixing until just combined. Fold quince slices into batter and spread batter evenly in pan.

Bake cake in middle of oven 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in pan on a rack 20 minutes.
Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Regional Riches

With its rich soil, rolling hills and temperate climate, northern California has given rise to extraordinary winemakers, organic farmers, ranchers and stellar artisan cheesemakers. In many cases, this abundance extends beyond the boutique groceries of the region to find a welcome place on shelves in metropolitan areas across the nation. But many of our region’s wonderful products do not travel to the far reaches of our world and I fully realize how very lucky I am to have this incredible wealth of talent and dedication available to me just steps away in my neighborhood.

One such local producer is Soyoung Scanlan, cheesemaker extraordinaire of Andante Dairy. I met Soyoung while I was working in the pastry kitchen of a fine dining restaurant a few years ago. She was our cheesemonger and I had the great fortune of being on the receiving end of her finely crafted delectable cheese. She crafts only small batches and every piece is exquisite. Her care and close attention to production and affinage are evident in every bite. Also an accomplished musician, Soyoung names each of her cheeses in keeping with her musical inclinations. If you live in the Bay Area or are ever in the region, please take the time to seek out Andante cheese. Although most of her cheeses go to the region’s finest restaurants, the French Laundry among them, they are available at the Saturday San Francisco Farmer’s Market and at our local Whole Foods.

In contrast to the region's emerging artisans, I pair Soyoung’s amazing cheese with one of the world’s oldest gifts from nature, Medjool dates. Dating back to 5th Century Egypt, dates were transported by the Moors to Spain and thrived throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Medjool plantings originating from Morocco and Jordan are now cultivated in the Coachella Valley of California. Medjools are considered the largest, plumpest and most prized of all the varieties and should be readily available in your area.

Andante’s Minuet is a soft-ripened goat’s milk triple crème made by adding crème fraîche to the curds. Mélange is a fabulous blend of goat’s milk and cow’s milk that results in a beautiful tanginess and richness made in the style of the best brie. It has a light luscious texture combined with a nice acidic bite, which pairs perfectly with all of the wonderful elements found in a recipe for Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. It’s an astonishing combination of old world and new world that will leave you happy for having found these abundant pleasures.

If you are unable to locate Andante cheese to serve with these dates, there are so very many other great choices. I would recommend just about anything, from a tangy goat to a gooey brie, a nutty gruyere, a tomme or a grand Parmigiano Reggiano. And of course there’s always ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, caramel, coffee or perhaps a fruit sorbet such as orange or mango, to name a few.

Bench notes:
- You may sometimes see a white powdery film forming on the surface of dates. This is due to their high level of natural sugar and is not a cause for alarm. It’s just sugar crystal formation. You can warm them in the oven or steam them and the crystals will dissolve.
- I used a Lustau Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry. I also think a Rainwater Madeira, with its caramel, orange and hazelnut notes, might work very well in place of the sherry.

Roasted Dates with Sherry and Spices

adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

24 Medjool dates, pitted
1 C Fino or Amontillado Sherry
1/4 C dark brown sugar
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange peel strip, 1” x 3”
1 C water
2 oz (4 T) butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place dates, sherry, brown sugar, spices, orange peel and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve and blend ingredients. Pour in a shallow baking dish and bake @ 350 degrees for 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes.

Remove the dates from the syrup. Cool and remove skins if you prefer. Strain the syrup back into the saucepan and discard spices. Bring syrup to a simmer and reduce by a third, about 7 minutes. Whisk in butter until the sauce is completely emulsified. Pour over dates and serve.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Walnut Cake with Apple Sauté and Caramel

‘Tis the season for nut recipes. The holidays always come with plenty of festive nut-filled cookies, cakes, tarts and tortes that feature almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or walnuts. Spices, dried fruits and booze also figure prominently in our holiday pastries.

The first nut dessert of the season's line-up is one I adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley. She offers a Walnut Layer Cake with Coffee Buttercream, but I wanted something lighter and more in keeping with the season. So I halved the recipe to produce just one layer, added a pinch of orange zest and decided to plate it with some sautéed apples and a caramel sauce to really give it the full autumn treatment. The cake has a warm walnut flavor, is buttery moist and has just the right crumb. When combined with fruit and a hint of citrus, this composition brings some of the best winter flavors into full bloom.

This recipe is a perfect match for many, many different flavors. You can add a bit of brandy to the cake or some spices to the caramel. You can sauté the apples with some rosemary sugar. You can add a bit of espresso or orange juice to the caramel or you can omit the caramel and serve with caramel ice cream. Or make a ginger orange syrup. Omit the apples and the caramel and serve with coffee ice cream. You can substitute bananas for the apples. Or some variation on all of the above. You get the picture! Experiment with your favorite combinations.

Bench notes:
- This is more of a cake than a dense walnut torte, which is also on my list of projects.
- As always with caramel, give it your undivided attention. It will turn on you in a second! Try to take it to a deep amber color to avoid it being too sweet. Take it off the heat the moment it reaches the right color and add the other ingredients to stop the cooking. And remember, whenever you add an ingredient to hot caramel, it’s going to bubble viciously. Just stand back and let it unwind. Also, be sure the cream and butter are at room temperature. Adding cold ingredients to hot caramel will likely cause it to seize on you. To fix a seized caramel, place it on low heat and whisk gently until dissolved.
- The ratios for the butter and cream in the caramel can be adjusted to your own taste, as well as the salt. I prefer a salty caramel!
- If you fear the caramel, you can make a simple sauce by bringing 1 C of brown sugar and 1/3 C water to a boil. Add 2 T butter and 2 T heavy cream and whisk to combine. Stir in 1 T cider vinegar to finish the sauce. The amount of butter, cream and cider vinegar can all be adjusted to suit your own personal preferences.
- I always grind nuts with a bit of sugar from the recipe to avoid releasing the oils and producing a nut paste.
- Use your favorite apple of the season that will hold up to cooking. I like the tartness of Granny Smith.

Walnut Cake with Apple Sauté and Caramel
adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

6 oz butter (1 1/2 sticks) @ room temperature
1/2 C + 2 T + 2t sugar
1/2 t orange zest (optional)
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 T maple syrup
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 C walnuts
1 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Caramel Sauce
1/4 C water
1 C sugar
1 t light corn syrup
2 T butter @ room temperature
1/4 C heavy cream @ room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 t vanilla extract
salt to taste

Apple Sauté
4 apples
1 T butter
3 T sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom with a parchment round. Butter the parchment and dust the bottom and sides with flour.

Place the walnuts in a food processor with the 2T and 2t of sugar. Process until the nuts are finely ground and resemble bread crumbs. Be sure to stop if the mixture looks like it’s starting to clump.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat the butter until smooth. Add the 1/2 C sugar and orange zest. Cream the mixture on medium speed until pale, light and very fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add maple syrup and vanilla. Blend in ground walnuts. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the flour by hand in three batches, mixing just enough to moisten and blend. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin blade knife around the cake to loosen and invert. Flip the cake back over to right side up and cool completely.

For the caramel sauce:
Place 1/4 C water, sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and turn up the heat. Cook the sugar mixture until it turns an amber color, about 7 minutes. Watch closely. Once the sugar starts to color it accelerates very quickly and will darken to a burnt and bitter stage very fast. If it's not coloring evenly, swirl the pan just a bit to circulate. Once it has reached the right color, take it off the heat and slowly add the cream. It will bubble up vigorously. Once it subsides a bit, add the butter and whisk until thoroughly combined. If there are any seized bits of caramel, return to low heat and stir continuously until dissolved. Stir in the scraped vanilla seeds or vanilla extract and salt to taste. Set aside.

For the apple sauté:
Peel, core and slice apples into thin wedges. Melt 1 T butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples; sprinkle with 1 T sugar. Sauté apples, shaking the pan to toss, until almost tender and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 T sugar and continue to cook and toss until sugar melts and apples are caramelized. Set aside.

Lightly brush the top and sides of the cake with the caramel sauce. Plate a piece of the cake and top with apple slices and drizzle with sauce.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spiced Poached Pears

The annual promotion of Beaujolais Nouveau, which occurs on the third Thursday in November, is a longstanding French ritual to celebrate the end of the first harvest of the Gamay Noir grape. Beaujolais Nouveau is the product of a brief whole grape fermentation, which produces fruitiness without extracting the bitter tannins from the grape skins. The wine is ready for consumption in just 6-8 weeks.

French wine merchant Georges Duboeuf is responsible for creating this promotional event that begins with a rush to deliver the first bottles of the new vintage to Paris. By the 1970's it became a national event and in successive decades spread to the rest of Europe, then North America and eventually to Asia. In the United States, it coincides with the Thanksgiving holiday. The wine is often served chilled and is considered a very lightweight drink marketed for immediate consumption rather than aging.

As the celebration rolls out this weekend, I am reminded of how good a simple dessert of wine poached pears can be. Perfect at the end of a heavy fall meal, the following recipe is adapted from the prolific Patricia Wells, the sole American ever to become a restaurant critic in France. The recipe was brought to my attention on Chowhound’s Home Cooking message board. What caught my eye was the description, which revealed that the poster couldn’t stop eating these pears and wound up licking her bowl. So I was inspired by such unbridled glee to try this recipe and sure enough, this sauce will leave you helpless. Lovely pears poached to perfection in a sauce that blends a wonderful fruitiness with a subtle sweetness and haunting blend of spice. You, too, will surrender before too long.

Bench notes:
- Use an ordinary vegetable peeler to peel the pears, following the vertical contours of the fruit and being careful not to bruise as the red wine tends to emphasize the surface during the poaching process.
- If the pears are not completely submerged in the wine, turn them as necessary every 10 minutes to ensure even saturation and coloration.
- I used a good quality zinfandel with terrific results.
- I highly recommend Malabar peppercorns, native to the Malabar Coast of India and the island of Sri Lanka and the best of the mass-produced variety.
- Crème de cassis is a wonderful liqueur made from black currants in the Burgundy region of France. I used a bottle from Chermette. The liqueur lends a bit of sweetness and a rich depth to the sauce. Crème de Casis was originally produced by 16th century monks as a cure for disease and wretchedness. Incidentally, it is the favorite drink of Agatha Christie’s fictional detective, Hercule Poirot.

Pears in Red Wine
adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells

4 bosc pears, peeled

1 bottle fruity red wine, such as zinfandel
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/2 C crème de cassis liqueur
2 T lemon juice
1 sprig rosemary
4 cloves
4 black peppercorns

Carefully peel pears. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Submerge pears and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes. If the liquid doesn't totally cover the pears, turn them every 10 minutes. Cool and refrigerate 24 hours. Serve at room temperature.

À bientôt.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Apple Rosemary Galette

It hardly seems like fall until the sweet aroma of apples baking in a hot oven wafts through the neighborhood. There’s something about the sensory combination of a crisp breeze, a dust up of autumn leaves and the sight and smell of a warm apple dessert that quintessentially inaugurates the arrival of autumn. Whether it’s a quickly devised apple crisp, an old-fashioned apple pie, classic French apple tart, Austrian strudel or European apple cake, apple desserts are among the most ubiquitous and satisfying pleasures in just about every region of the world. They are the reliably delicious staple that gets us through these long winter months before spring arrives with its grand palette of fresh color and succulent sunshine flavors. When the kitchen is full of the fragrance of apples baking, we know we are in for supreme comfort.

I love baking all the traditional apple desserts, but today I’m thinking about a free form apple galette that delivers a slight herbal note to pique our interest and remind us that a tiny bit of savory is more than welcome in the apple kingdom. The smell of a fresh rosemary sprig can lift our spirits just by merely showing up. One bite of this dessert and you’ll see what I mean. Tender apples, just a slight hint of fresh herb and a pinch of sweetness, this is a truly satisfying celebration of fall.

Bench notes:
- This recipe calls for a bit of rosemary sugar that is made by simply grinding fresh rosemary and sugar together to get a fragrant blend. Use a clean coffee grinder that is used for spices only or your food processor. Although only about a tablespoon or so is needed, to get a good blend you’ll need to do a slightly larger batch. The remainder can be used on toast or mixed into hot oatmeal or a good pound cake recipe.
- This dough recipe makes enough for two galettes. You can freeze half the dough for later use if you’d like.
- I used Fuji apples but choose your favorite baking variety. Keep in mind that sugar levels vary greatly in fruit, so always taste the fruit to gauge the desired level of sweetness. You’ll often see that my recipes include the phrase “to taste” to accommodate personal preferences. So taste, taste, taste.

Apple Rosemary Galette
Serves 8

Galette Dough
2 C AP flour
1 T sugar
1/4 t salt
6 oz butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/2 C cold water

4 apples
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 T sugar
1 1/2 T rosemary sugar

2 T butter, melted
sugar to sprinkle

To prepare galette dough, whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl to combine. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until you have mostly small pieces the size of tiny peas and some just a bit larger. You can use your fingers to do this or a pastry blender works well. Be sure each piece of butter is coated with flour. Add the cold water and mix gently with your fingers until the dough just starts to come together. Gather the dough on a work surface. Use a pastry scraper or metal spatula to fold the dough back onto itself and gently pat down with your hands into a loose disc. Repeat this process again once or twice until the dough looks like it’s coming together. Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap. Gather tightly and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove from the refrigerator and rest on a lightly floured board for a few minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking. Then roll the dough out to a 14” circle about 1/8”thick, moving the dough after each roll and keeping the board lightly floured as needed. When you have the desired shape, lift the pastry onto a parchment covered pizza pan or baking sheet. Chill for about a half hour.

Prepare rosemary sugar by grinding about 15 coarsely chopped rosemary leaves and about 3 T granulated sugar together in a clean spice grinder or a food processor. The rosemary should be as finely ground as possible. Set aside.

Squeeze juice of half a lemon into a large bowl. Peel, core and slice apples into thin wedges. Toss in lemon juice and sprinkle with 2 T of plain sugar. Toss thoroughly to coat all the apple slices.

Remove prepared galette dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle 1 1/2 T rosemary sugar evenly across the bottom, leaving about a 1 1/2” border all the way around. Arrange sliced apples on top of rosemary sugar as you wish. Now start to lift and gather the dough up and on top of the fruit, being careful not to create any cracks. Work with both hands, pressing gently to keep the dough in place. Chill for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the border of dough and the fruit with melted butter and dust the dough and the fruit with a generous sprinkle of plain sugar. Bake for about 40 – 50 minutes, until the dough is crisp and browned. Cool on a wire rack to keep the bottom of the galette crisp.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Roasted Pineapple with Pink Peppercorns

Fresh unadorned pineapple is a juicy treat all on its own, but there are some very simple ways to embellish the tropical deliciousness of this fruit.

Browsing through some of my cookbooks the other day, I refreshed my acquaintance with The Last Course by Claudia Fleming, who enjoyed quite a run as Pastry Chef at Gramercy Tavern. And I know it’s November, but reading through her prescription for roasted pineapple, with its glorious floral notes, warmed me up considerably. Roasting this acidic fruit brings out the tenderness of each slice. Bathing it in a caramel sauce redolent of herbs, spice, rum, and a fresh vanilla bean really takes this dessert into the realm of a languorous lazy day on a fantasy tropical island. So join me in this flight of fancy. I highly recommend you hang up your raincoat and set sail for the nearest pineapple grove. And please! Don’t forget to send a post card.

Bench notes:
- One very important note: the recipe starts with making a caramel. It gives good instructions for cooking the sugar, but whenever you make caramel you must always include a way to stop the cooking process or it will likely burn. In general, this means either adding a liquid to cool it down or immediately placing the pan in cool water to stop the cooking. Fleming’s recipe simply says to add the pineapple once the caramel reaches the appropriate color, but this alone may not stop it. So be sure to have another pan with an inch or so of cold water in your sink so you can take the pan off the heat and place it in a cold water bath if necessary to immediately stop the caramel from burning. It will hiss and bubble, but just stand back and let it unwind. The other thing you can do is quickly and carefully pour the caramel into another metal bowl and place the bowl in the cold water. Don’t worry if the caramel seizes a bit. It will quickly melt once it goes into the oven.
- Remember, burns from hot caramel are very painful, so be extremely careful about handing the pan. Add the pineapple slices slowly and carefully so they don’t splash hot caramel your way.
- Fleming says to use a 10” oven proof skillet for 8 slices of pineapple, but I could only fit 3. You’ll need to use a roasting pan large enough to fit 8 slices and then pour the caramel sauce over all, basting every ten minutes.
- The bay leaf, vanilla bean and pink peppercorns are what lift this dessert to utter greatness. Don’t leave them out! And be generous with the salt, tasting as you go to see how salt can really improve a dessert.
- The most commonly available vanilla beans are Madagascar (sometimes called Bourbon) and Tahitian. Both are wonderful, but if you can get Tahitian, they are the most floral and aromatic and the favorite found in fine dining pastry kitchens.
- This dessert is stupendous on its own, but I can see you’re already thinking about vanilla ice cream, so follow your bliss. As for me, I think this might make an interesting element in a dessert cheese course and would be really delicious with a good Manchego or an aged goat cheese like the Spanish jewel, Garrotxa.
- Leftovers will keep for several days and can be gently reheated. I’m already starting to think about ways I can replicate this stupendous sauce in other desserts…………yes, I will.

Roasted Pineapple with Pink Peppercorns
adapted from The Last Course by Claudia Fleming

1/4 C water
1 C sugar
1 t light corn syrup
1 pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced into 8 pieces
1 vanilla bean
1 bay leaf
2 oz (1/2 stick) butter
2 T dark rum, preferably Myers’s
1 T pink peppercorns
pinch of salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 1/4 C water in a 10” skillet. Add sugar and corn syrup and turn up the heat. Cook the sugar mixture, swirling occasionally, until it turns to an amber color, about 7 minutes. Watch carefully. Once sugar starts to color it accelerates very quickly and will darken to a burnt and bitter stage very fast. Be sure to take it off the heat before it gets to a dark amber stage. Once it has reached the right color and before it starts to smoke, quickly place the caramel pan in another pan that has about an inch of cold water to stop the cooking. Carefully add a couple of pineapple slices using tongs or a long-handled fork to slow the cooking further. Stand back as it sputters. Once it has subsided and stopped steaming, carefully lift the pan out of the water bath. Stir and add vanilla pulp, vanilla pod and bay leaf. Place all the pineapple slices in a roasting pan and pour the sauce over all, coating each slice. Bake about 40 minutes until pineapple is tender and translucent, basting every 10 minutes or so and turning slices to coat as necessary.

Remove pineapple to a platter and cover to keep warm. Add the butter, rum, pink peppercorns and salt to the hot caramel sauce and whisk until smooth. Spoon over pineapple and serve. Prepare for total pleasure overdrive.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mexican Morsels

As Halloween approaches, my thoughts drift to Day of the Dead. And then they drift to Mexico. And then somehow they drift to Mexican Wedding Cakes or Polverones. This fabulous cookie often tops the Favorite Cookie List of many a cookie fanatic, for good reason. It’s one of the simplest cookies to make where butter and the earthy flavor of fresh nuts take center stage. Equally good with either pecans or walnuts, these cookies are light, crumbly, not too sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a rich tradition that dates back thousands of years to the Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and Olmec indigenous populations of Southern Mexico. It is a celebration of the return of the dead that takes place principally on November 1st and 2nd. There is quite a lot of regional variation, but most follow the same general theme. Gravesites are freshly cleaned and spruced up. Marigolds and favorite foods of the dead are arranged to attract and invite their return. It is believed that the spirit of loved ones comes and takes the nourishment or spirit of the ofrendas, or offerings. Candles, skulls and religious symbols fill the tables in many homes along with pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread formed in various shapes to represent skulls or bones.

This recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes is adapted from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies, a flawless collection of classic cookie recipes. Unfortunately, it’s apparently out of print, so if you ever see one at a used bookstore or a garage sale, snap it up!

Here is my ofrenda.

Bench notes:
- While lots of recipes direct us to prepare the nuts in a coarse chop, I’ve found that when you process them with the flour and sugar to a much finer crumb, it really brings out the flavor of the nut and makes for a really great texture.
- Be sure your walnuts are fresh. Due to their high oil content, they tend to become rancid rather quickly. Store nuts in an airtight container in your freezer to keep them from becoming stale or rancid.
- I use a #40 ice cream scoop to portion these cookies. It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies. (The #40 refers to 40 scoops per quart.)
- These cookies keep very well in an airtight container. I’ve done hundreds for wedding favors.

Mexican Wedding Cakes
adapted from Alice Medrich's Cookies and Brownies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 1/2 C nuts
1/4 C sugar
2 C flour
1/4 t salt
8 oz (2 sticks) butter, softened and cut into small pieces
2 t vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk (optional)
1/2 C powdered sugar

Place the sugar and nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process to a fine powder. Add the flour and salt and pulse to mix thoroughly. Add the pices of butter, vanilla and egg yolk. Process just until the mixture collects into damp clumps. Place the dough on a piece of plastic and cover with another piece. Pat the dough into an even package and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Your oven racks should be in the upper and lower third of the oven.

Scoop or shape the dough into 1 1/4” balls and place 12 to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes or until only slightly colored on the top and golden brown on the bottom. Rotate baking sheets half-way through to ensure even baking and browning.

Cool the cookies for about 5 minutes. Sift powered sugar over the top of each one. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. These can be stored for about 2 weeks, but may need another dusting of powdered sugar.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Connoisseur of Coffee

Peet’s Coffee first appeared on the scene in Berkeley in 1966 and soon acquired a zealous following of java-crazed caffeine addicts. Alfred Peet launched a revolution in coffee roasting and coffee appreciation that continues to this day. His recent death reminded me of the tremendous contribution he made to the drinking habits of a nation.

I know it’s almost impossible to believe there once was a time before Starbuck’s. That was a time when Dutch immigrant Alfred Peet began to share his immense knowledge of coffee and fine tea with the San Francisco Bay Area. A second-generation coffee roaster, Alfred Peet grew up in his father’s roastery in Holland and also worked in the tea business in London and Indonesia. He immigrated to San Francisco in 1955 and found a job in coffee importing. He eventually set about looking for a place to start his own company and began importing the finest beans from all over the world. For people who prefer their coffee in the darker roast range, Peet’s coffee set the standard. Take a moment and learn a little bit about the joys of brewing a magical cup of coffee.

The production of coffee shares some similarity with the production of wine, cheese and chocolate. What matters crucially is the terrain, the weather, the caretaking, the selection, handling, processing, storing, and aging. The knowledge and devotion these products require is what keeps us endlessly fascinated with artisan products. I bow to Mr. Peet’s love of the pursuit of the finest ingredients and the pleasure they bring to our everyday lives.

I love the flavor of good coffee in pastries and desserts. In honor of Alfred Peet, I put together the following recipe for those who share my fix. These cookies are for the adult in you. They are crisp and full of the flavor of fresh robust coffee beans; not too sweet, with a slight burst of intense dark roast sensation reminiscent of a great shot of espresso.

To Alfred Peet, a consummate connoisseur.

Bench notes:
- For a close-up of the texture of these cookies, click on the photos.
- For maximum flavor, use your very favorite dark roast coffee beans.
- These cookies taste great when fresh but are even better as the days follow.
- For even baking, it’s always a good practice to rotate your cookie sheet pans and exchange top to bottom racks half-way through the baking time.

Espresso Cookies

Makes 1 dozen 2” cookies or about 2 dozen 1 1/2” cookies

1 C flour
1/4 t salt
2 T finely ground espresso beans
4 oz butter ( 1 stick) @ room temperature
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
2 t Kahlua
1 t vanilla

Sift together the flour, salt and ground espresso beans.
Cream butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy but not fluffy.
Add Kahlua and vanilla and blend well.
Add the flour all at once and mix just until the dough starts to come together. Finish the mixing gently using a rubber spatula. For maximum tenderness, be careful not to overmix!

Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap. Press it down into a circle. Cover with a second piece of plastic and roll to 1/4" with a rolling pin. Slide onto a pizza pan or baking sheet and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut out cookie shapes and place 12 on a cookie sheet lined with either parchment or a silpat.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheets and switching top and bottom shelves half way through. Cookies are done when the edges turn a light golden brown and can be easily nudged without sticking. Allow cookies to firm up on the pan for 1 minute before removing to a cooling rack. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Enjoy with - what else? A steaming hot cup o’ joe.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Perfume of Pear

There are few things so subtle yet unmistakable in flavor than pears. Their juicy deliciousness is derived from both their delicate scent and more delicate taste. Even visually, they appear to be in utter repose, off in their own quiet conspiracy.

I love working with pears. The perfume that releases once you’ve peeled and cored a perfectly ripe pear is beyond description. But how do you capture their quiet essence without overwhelming it with other flavors? Because pears go so well with caramel, various spices, nuts, wine, spirits, cheese or chocolate, it’s easy to let any of those other flavors take hold. But how to balance all of these other elements so you still have that faint-whisper sensation of pure pear? How do you render that pure essence so it’s in the forefront of your palate? It’s one of the hardest things to do and something I’ve thought about for years!

While on this trail of simplicity, I’ve baked some ripe pears in a basic flaky sour cream pastry dough to highlight and exalt the fresh flavor and simplicity of the fruit. Unadorned, quiet and complete all on their own.

Bench notes:

- A few years ago I had the great fortune of sampling a plum kifli at Crixa, a terrific bakery in Berkeley that makes the most interesting Hungarian, Russian, Central European and American pastries and desserts. I searched and experimented for something approximating kifli dough. The pastry dough I use here is one version.
- Although I am in a purist mood, you can of course add your favorite spices or minced ginger or golden raisins or whatever you’d like to the fruit.
- These delicate pastries are to be eaten the same day.

Pears in Pastry
Makes 6 pastries

1 C flour
1 T sugar
1/8 t salt
4 oz cold butter cut into small pieces
1/4 C sour cream
1 egg yolk

2 pears, peeled and cored
2 T sugar, to taste
1/2 lemon
egg wash: 1 egg + 1t water

Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and process until the butter is reduced to small pieces and the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal for the most part. Add sour cream and yolk and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Be careful not to overmix. Gather the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and seal it. Chill thoroughly.

Remove the dough and let it warm at room temperature for a couple of minutes. Roll out to 1/8” and cut into desired shapes. Place cutouts on a parchment lined baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Place the juice of 1/2 lemon in a bowl large enough to hold the sliced pears. Prepare pears by peeling, coring and slicing or dicing them. Add the pears to the bowl and toss to coat with lemon juice. Add sugar and toss gently. Remove pastry from the refrigerator and brush the pastry edges with egg wash. Top with pear mixture and seal. Place the pastries in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Egg wash the dough and sprinkle with a bit more sugar. Bake the pastries for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown, rotating the baking sheet half way through as necessary to ensure even baking.

Take in that aroma. Cool. Stare. Consume.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Gone Tasting

I’m heading to NYC for a few days to delve into the sights, sounds and tastes of the city and collect a much-needed tête-à-tête with my closest friends.

It’s also time to turn our attention to the onset of a most beautiful autumn. The transition between seasons always brings our relationship with nature into crisp focus. The weather and quality of light change, and we find our tables reflecting a whole new incredible crop of delicious fresh food. Although I nearly weep as the summer’s bounty of cherries, apricots, figs, blackberries, nectarines and peaches fades from sight, I really love all that comes next. Pears, apples, quince, pomegranates, dates, citrus and nuts are all fabulous in their own right. And then there’s chocolate and crèmes and compotes and spice. The challenges to keep fall and winter menus interesting are a welcome stretch.

While I’m away, please see what you can do to stir up some trouble in the kitchen.

See you soon.

pear & persimmon photography courtesy of Jennifer Kanter/Semaphore Fine Preserves & Films

Friday, September 28, 2007

Parade of the Raspberry

When asked to prepare dessert for a dinner party, I always want to spoil the host. A recent invitation to a friend’s dinner table was almost too easy. I know how much he loves raspberries and tarts. And although I had several ideas for things that would be exciting for me to experiment with, I realized that what would most please him is just a pile of raspberries nestled in a little pastry shell. Sometimes it's just that simple. So I got out of the way and let the raspberries carry on in their own perfect parade.

Chocolate Tart Shells

Adapted from David Ogonowski in Baking with Julia

Makes 6 4” tart shells or many mini tart shells

1 1/4 C flour
1/4 C cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 C sugar
1/4 t salt
4 oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1 T ice water

Tart Filling
1 C crème fraiche or heavy cream
1 T sugar
1 - 2 pints raspberries

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. Add butter and pulse about 8 - 10 times to break up the butter into pea-sized pieces. Add the yolk and ice water and pulse a few more times until the dough begins to look crumbly. Finish the dough on a clean work surface using a motion called fraisage, which is smearing parts of the dough across the work surface with the heel or palm of your hand. This is a great technique that essentially flattens the butter and coats it in flour, producing that all-important flakiness. As with all pastry doughs, be careful not to overmix. Fraisage the dough just 3 or 4 times (depending on the amount of dough you're working with) and then use a bench scraper to gather and fold the dough back on itself. Form into a flat round, wrap in plastic and chill the dough until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Let the dough warm up for a few minutes at room temperature. Roll between 2 pieces of parchment to an 1/8 inch. Line tart pans, patching as you go if necessary. Chill the shells for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Prick the bottom of the tart shells with the tines of a fork and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. The surface of the tart sheets should appear dry and firm to the touch. Cool completely.

Whip 1 cup of crème fraiche or heavy cream with 1 T sugar until medium peaks form. Fill the tart shells halfway and top with berries. Stand back and hail the parade.